I have had crushes on some of the shiniest assessments ever dreamed up: the Myers-Briggs, DiSC, Emotional Intelligence, and my most recent heartbreak: Grit (oh, Grit … you left a big hole in my heart). I tried to fit with these loves. But alas, I am a misfitand I failed. I used to think it was me. But now I know it is them. Here is the beginning of my story:
Crush #1: Myers-Briggs:
I was first introduced to the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) in an undergraduate psychology course. I drove my professor crazy trying to figure out the inner secrets to the MBTI. Please, please, please, but I could never get a convincing ‘yes’. MBTI’s answer changed every time we interacted. One moment I was an introvert and the next I was an extrovert. I thought there was something wrong with me and I simply did not fit. I moved on – I needed stability and something more than skin deep.
I grew up and left my immature infatuation behind. Then I read a great article by fellow organizational psychologist, Dr. Adam Grant (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/give-and-take/201309/goodbye-mbti-the-fad-won-t-die). Professor Grant seemed to have the same problem I had encountered – the MBTI gave him different answers too – one day he was an INTJ and a short while later he was an ESFP. Huh? So maybe the MBTI just doesn’t like organizational psychologists? I mean, if Adam can’t fit with the MBTI, how the heck could a misfit like me?
Crush #2: DiSC
Unlike MBTI, which uses letters, DiSC integrates colors into its personality profiles. I had spent years studying, researching, and teaching personality, psychometrics, and organizational psychology and I had never heard of DiSC. I was intrigued. No way would I get the same scattered results as I did with the MBTI. Well, I got the same results – results that were scattered all over the place without any consistency and seemingly missing the target randomly. I kept changing color each time I interacted with DiSC. One day I was mostly red (Drive), then a month later I was yellow (influence). Here I am thinking I am green (Steadiness) because that is what all my friends say – at least I was never blue (Compliant).
Am I really this bad? Maybe – it is certainly in the realm of possibilities. Yet, I tend to agree with Professor Grant – it’s not really me, its them. The MBTI and many other personality profilers, like DiSC, are flaky and their value is only skin deep. They don’t offer a great deal of genuine insight and they certainly do not consistently predict important work-related outcomes – like job performance. I’m sorry, but they are shiny objects. Sooooooooooooo shiny!
Crush #3: Emotional Intelligence
Another shiny object is Emotional Intelligence. Just writing that name has ticked me off. But I chased EI too. Don’t get me wrong, emotions and the regulation of emotions are exceedingly important (see work by Dr. James Gross at Stanford: https://spl.stanford.edu). Emotions are rooted in our dumb-downed ‘reptilian’ part of our brain. We have to use our higher order cognitive processes to understand and regulate how we deliver our emotions (that’s emotion regulation).
But damn, … emotional intelligence is shiny. Way shiner than the MBTI or its relatives and there are millions and millions of people lining up for EI. Most people chase after ‘mixed EI’, the version popularized by Daniel Goleman. I use to be one of them until I took off my blinders during my PhD training. Research by Dr. Dana Joseph and her collaborators (http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2014-39897-001) should help you remove your blinders too. Joseph et al have busted the myth that emotional intelligence is (1) unique and (2) predicts job performance. They demonstrated that EI is nothing more than a cocktail of old tried and true traits (e.g., conscientiousness, cognitive ability, emotional stability) that have been known for years to be helpful in understanding and predicting aspect of work performance. Joseph et al found that once these traits are controlled for, EI offers absolutely nothing. Zip, Zero. In the authors’ own words: “Our results indicated that after controlling for these constructs, the relationship between mixed EI and job performance dropped to near zero (β = −.02; ns)” (p. 316).
It is useless to me (and you).
Crush #4: Grit
Now, perhaps the sexiest and shiniest of all is grit. I loved Grit. I dreamed of Grit quite frequently. Grit could answer my prayers – make me an A-player in everything I wanted to do. Grit can do everything. Grit can give me wings! For Pete’s sake - I dumped Conscientiousness, that tried and true measure of achievement, prudence, and responsibility, so I could chase after Grit.
A recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article did not only call into question the novelty of Grit that was put forth from Professor Duckworth – it put the final nail in Grit’s coffin (https://www.wsj.com/articles/is-there-anything-grit-cant-do-1498254238). To be fair, the WSJ did not uncover the complete lack of Grit’s novelty - that comes from Dr. Marcus Crede and his co-authors (http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2016-29674-001). They found a meta-analytic correlation between Grit and Conscientious of .84 (that’s in the range of identical twins IQ scores). Once conscientiousness is controlled for, grit provides nothing to our understanding of any meaningful workplace phenomenon. Grit is useless, but damn is it shiny. I owe Conscientiousness an apology. Will you please take me back C, pretty please?
It’s not me, it’s you:
Shiny assessments are sexy. That is usually about all they have going for them. This was the case for some of my most memorable crushes in organizational psychology – oh how I wish they had worked out... I’m looking at you Grit ;-(. I am learning that misfitsare not shiny or sexy, but they do deliver. Fits are those chasing the expectations of society against their own value-based-fiber. I think the same applies to a lot of the variables we study in organizational psychology.
Use variables and methods that we know work. There are a lot of dull ideas in organizational psychology that wear overalls to work, one of the most effective is the scientific method (yea, the same one that has cured many diseases and put humans on the moon). We need to make sure we have great reliability and excellent validity (something my crushes here came up short on). Let’s use what we know works and use science to drive new and truly unique insights. Let’s stop chasing shiny objects. I finally stopped when I embraced my Misfit status (http://www.iamamisfit.com/columns/personal-stories/misfits-kinda-explained).